Wendalyn Nichols, editor of the Copyediting
newsletter, offers useful tips to copy editors and anyone else who prizes clear and orderly writing. Here she looks at some pitfalls in using the word proscribe
The New Oxford American Dictionary
has announced its Word of the Year
for 2009: it's unfriend
, defined as "to remove someone as a 'friend' on a social networking site such as Facebook." Readers of this space will be quite familiar with the term, as I discussed it along with similar un
-verbs on Word Routes in May
and then again in September
as a followup to my On Language column in the New York Times Magazine
, "The Age of Undoing
." It's nice to feel ahead of the curve on this one, but truth be told, unfriending
has been going on for many years.
University of Illinois linguist Dennis Baron explains how a simple grammar lesson can lead to a clash of civilizations.
Everybody knows that a noun is the name of a person, place, or thing. It's one of those undeniable facts of daily life, a fact we seldom question until we meet up with a case that doesn't quite fit the way we're used to viewing things.
We welcome Ben H. Winters, who follows up the runaway success of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
with his own Jane Austen mashup, Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
. As the publisher, Quirk Books, explains, "Winters expands the original text of Austen's beloved novel with all-new scenes of giant lobsters, rampaging octopi, two-headed sea serpents, swashbuckling pirates, and other seaworthy creatures." Hmm... octopi
Twitter is becoming a great haven for wordplay. Check out the creativity on display in tweets marked with the hashtag #collectivenouns
: "a knot of string theorists," "a sneer of critics," "a wunch of bankers," "a seemingly empty room of ninjas." The website All Sorts
is collecting the results of this collective online experiment.
November 12th isn't a public holiday, but perhaps it should be. On this day in 1990, a memorandum was produced by the English physicist Tim Berners-Lee and the Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau while working for CERN in Geneva. Entitled "WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project," it might not have seemed so earth-shattering at the time. But it set into motion the Age of the Web: it's hard to overestimate the impact this document has had on our chronically wired culture — and on our language.
Today is Veterans Day in the United States, and linguist Neal Whitman has been thinking about a question of military usage: if "50,000 troops" refers to 50,000 people, then does "one troop" refer to one person?